Chatto Pinot Noir 2013

Wine communicators collectively wet themselves over this on its release. I’m tasting it for the first time tonight, and like it somewhat more than its 2012 predecessor.

It’s a smart wine. Transparent, cleanly articulated, complex; this is immediately expressive and shows a distinctive personality. There’s a bristled spice and sour tang to the flavour profile that recalls food as much as wine. I regret that sourness is almost always considered a deficiency in wine appreciation; although it can be indicative of poorly handled acid, here it provides the refreshment of a tamarind amongst pungent spice, balancing the wine’s warmer notes and creating an impression of freshness.

The palate structure is firm yet light, as is indeed the wine as a whole, but intensity is striking and flavours are confident. There’s an ease to the way this moves down its line, fanning satin berry fruits across the tongue then whisking them away with a clean flourish, teasing with a shake of tannin and a spritz of acid.

The question of longevity must, of course, be invoked, and having done so I shall dismiss it without answer. Who cares? It’s drinking fabulously right now.

Chatto
Price: $50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2013

One is momentarily tempted to trot out the usual cliches when discussing this wine – that it’s difficult when young, less accessible than the Springvale bottling, and so on. None of that’s especially helpful, and it completely misses the point of this wine, which is that it’s kind of perfect.

Pleasure can be so diverse, even within something fairly limited like wine. Some wines are sloppily delightful and others, like this, are almost inhumanly well built, expressing such precision of structure that their construction becomes a source of interest and wonder. The word that comes to mind most often while tasting this is “chiselled,” and in terms of aroma this translates to a cool, savoury presence that keeps any sense of plushness under wraps. Instead, a series of shy, hard-edged notes unfold and move from one to the next, never losing momentum, always foregrounding a sense of humid minerality.

The palate is quite approachable in that it strikes me as appropriately structured given its fruit weight and intensity. As with the nose, each flavour is placed with precision and balance. It’s quite a powerful wine, yet what I find most impressive in the mouth are beautifully managed phenolics that add a chalk-like texture to the after palate. Unlike wines that are self-consciously “about texture,” this simply presents that dimension, and it adds to the pleasure of the overall package.

This is probably the last wine to convert those sceptical of ultra-dry Clare Riesling — who cares, though? I’m just happy to taste a wine of such impeccable taste.

Grosset
Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Ceoltóirí 2013

Clonakilla’s small batch range seems to have exploded in recent years, with little rhyme or reason to its composition – not that I mind at all having the opportunity to taste a broader range of styles coming out of this wonderful producer. Some of the wines look outside the Canberra region for fruit, but this Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Cinsault blend is sourced from Murrumbateman, Clonakilla’s home turf.

The aroma is all about a cool climate vibe – this is an uncompromisingly spiced wine, with a range of floral and cracked pepper-like notes blanketing a layer of red fruits. There are also fragranced orange peel dimensions and a baseline of oak that, together, frame the assertive aroma, not softening it so much as completing its range.

The palate, at this stage of the wine’s life, is driven by a firm acid line and some fairly prominent tannins, and over three days it has softened only a little. To be sure, there’s no lack of flavour; as with the aroma, this is quite driven, with an aggression to its articulation that is impressive as well as a little tiring. It’s wiry and detailed and all those good things, but the adjectives I am instinctively reaching for are less unequivocally positive – lean, young and unresolved. A key difficulty for me is the way its structure sits apart from its fruit, creating a sweet-sour impression and granting the wine a fairly hard finish. The fact this is a light, transparent wine only exposes these components more.

So, to write about this as a wine of potential, or one of inaccessible pleasures in the present? It may well be both those things. Certainly, its unwillingness to tire over an extended period bodes well for its future, and there’s no denying the elegance of its flavours.

Clonakilla
Price: $A36
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Attwoods Old Hog Pinot Noir 2012

A tale of three vintages, from the difficult 2011, through this wine to the as-yet unreleased 2013. These wines are those of a good friend, Troy Walsh, who made wine school a hell of a lot more fun than it otherwise would have been for me, and who comes with a background working as a sommelier in some of London’s better-known fine dining establishments. After returning to Australia, he and his family settled in the Ballarat area, and his goal is to make exceptional Pinot Noir. He works with Geelong and Ballarat fruit, and is in the process of establishing his own vineyard on a lovely slope in Scotsburn. The best is almost certainly yet to come.

All of which makes these three wines fascinating. There’s a family resemblance, but each speaks clearly of its vintage. The 2011, long sold out, is a light wine, savoury in character and ephemeral in effect, providing a transparent look into a challenging growing season. This is a massive step up, with more of everything – intensity, structure, length, density. This is a sinewy, uncompromising style that is all about savouriness of flavour and acid-driven structure. It’s startlingly adult, in fact, and very regional in its refusal to cushion its impact with any sort of plushness. I can imagine its vibe might be too extreme for some, but for those who can get inside the wine, there’s a wealth of detail and interest, and surprising depth of flavour. A distillation of Geelong Pinot.

The 2013, though a way off release, softens the 2012’s countenance slightly with a big opening of bright fruit. There’s a good deal of whole bunch happening here, so I presume some of this fruitiness is a function of some carbonic maceration as well as extreme youth – in any case, the question of family resemblance is quickly settled as the wine breathes. Although showing some puppy fat, this is a savoury wine at heart, if one with a bit more flesh and scale than the 2012. I tasted this over several days (it was decanted on opening and stayed that way) and it never tired. It simply became darker and more like the 2012 in flavour profile. I look forward to its release.

It’s fascinating to watch this portfolio evolve through its early stages. Already, Troy is exploring his somewhat uncompromising view of wine style, and engaging strongly with the regions he chooses to work within. I see only good things ahead.

Attwoods Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2010

The second release of Mitchell Harris’s sparking wine, this has credentials that stretch back far beyond the establishment of this label. Indeed, John Harris brings a wealth of experience as former winemaker at Domaine Chandon to this wine, and it’s important to remember Western Victoria was once renowned for its sparkling wines above all other styles. So, quite a pedigree.

The style here, as with the 2008, places an emphasis on freshness and generosity. It’s an absolute crowd-pleaser, in fact, but still retains a range of complexities of flavour that reward closer tasting. What I like about this wine in particular is how its lees-derived, savoury notes creep their way in softly, adding interest to a core of citrus fruit and creating an edge of sophistication without robbing the wine of its fundamental deliciousness.

Acid and texture, the bugbears of many an Australian sparkling, are well-handled here. The palate has a creamy mouthfeel that complements its fruit and spice flavours well. There’s ample spritz which means the wine is lively in the mouth, yet it has a softness to its textures that is pleasing. Some nice, chalky phenolic pucker brings up the rear.

While it’s possible to approach this wine analytically, that would be somewhat missing the point of a style that seems designed, first and foremost, for drinking.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2005

I remember tasting this at cellar door, along with the superb 2005 Vat 1, and purchasing immediately. At the time, though I don’t remember specifics, I do distinctly recall being impressed by its focus and drive.

That structure and linearity have served the wine well. This is the first bottle I’ve tasted in quite some time and it’s ageing in style. There are aromas that show definite bottle-age — toast, biscuits, a softening of the lemon flavours down to more curd-like notes — and in a way this reminds me of Hunter Semillon as it gains age. There’s also, unlike your typical Hunter Semillon, a good deal of oak, and I like the way the oak’s spice integrates with the fruit’s evolving aroma profile. This wine’s in a good place right now, aromatically.

The palate shows a nice lick of lemon curd that pools on the mid-palate, along with riper stonefruit flesh and sweetness that gains as the wine moves down its line. There’s a progressive richness to the wine’s shape in the mouth, leading to a rather wedge-shaped palate. Fittingly, the finish is well extended, and there’s plenty of acid to keep things alive and moving. I find this has really good clarity of articulation and, although it’s not a fine-boned wine by nature, it shows good form and drive. Certainly, within its warmer climate style, it has great balance and tension throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am happy to have a few more in my cellar. Given its Stelvin closure and good cellaring conditions, I think this might live for quite some time (as, I submit, many good Australian Chardonnays can).

Tyrrell’s Wines
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2011

The gulf between quality and pleasure can be vast.

One of the mistakes of wine appreciation is to assume one is equivalent to the other – that, somehow, a wine with length and complexity, one that ticks all the boxes of canonical wine quality, will taste good and provide pleasure. Or, equally, that a wine one likes must be framed as a wine of quality. Sometimes the two meet, and it’s glorious. But this intersection isn’t necessary for intense pleasure, and a wine which delivers an amount of sensual enjoyment even as it lacks some key ingredients deserves to be as vigorously defended, if not more so, than a wine of perfect form.

I’d never put this forward as a wine of comprehensive quality. In fact, it’s quite flawed on a formal level, lacking the length and definition one might reasonably demand at this price point. It’s also light on, almost exposed, and hence treads the line of being disappointingly insubstantial. All of this no doubt a function of difficult vintage conditions — if that matters.

The fact this has given me more pleasure over the past few days than any number of better wines is a matter for some introspection, and no mean challenge when it comes time to write. If there’s a shared element to those things I love despite their flaws — genre cinema, Proust, Four’N Twenty pies — it’s that their distinctive pleasures are so outsize, so overwhelming, as to obliterate (or at least make tolerable) their evident shortcomings. So this, a wine with inadequate body and length, and one which fades far too quickly with air, is also the most explosively spiced, fragrant Shiraz of any I’ve tasted in recent months. Its song on attack is so charming it carries the wine’s slight blur right through its moderate line and textured finish.

Is it wrong to enjoy a wine so much for being so little? No — indeed, what’s wrong is to contain enjoyment within the narrow confines of Platonic form. Wine is many things, people are varied, and the intersections between a wine and its audience are bound to be complex. I know this isn’t the greatest wine, yet I’m happy to have opened a bottle that made me smile, as much for what it lacks as what it gives.

Clonakilla
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Porongurup Riesling 2009

This is still available by mail order from the producer – I picked up a bottle a while back when I put together a mixed dozen of Castelli’s wines. I also have more recent vintages to taste – so many Rieslings, so little liver function.

This starts well. A lot of Great Southern Riesling has a particular fizzy lime character that’s quite aggressive but also rather moreish. It’s partly a function of the acid structures these wines seem to develop in the region, but also of the powdery, high toned citrus flavours one often sees. In any case, it’s here, along with a soft landing on the mid-palate and a tauter, mineral after palate. It’s pure and driven, perhaps lacking an ounce in refinement of line and mouthfeel. There are a few suggestions of bottle age, but on the basis of this bottle there’s a way to go before it hits full flavour maturity.

After a day of being open the flavours don’t tire but the wine does lose some focus on the palate. It broadens as its acid calms and, while this creates less friction, it also increases the impression of sweetness and fleshy simplicity. Perhaps it will build complexity with a bit more time in bottle. In any case, a nice wine; it just needs an extra dimension of detail and finesse to join the upper echelons of the region’s Riesling.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2011

I’m not one who believes things like transparency of vintage or site are ends in themselves, but at the same time it’s nice to see a vintage shine through, making its mark on a wine and reminding us that we’re dealing with an agricultural product. Over the course of the last few releases of this label (see my notes on the 2009 and 2010), Stuart Olsen has apparently worked with, rather than against, the qualities of each vintage. Having observed that, I will also add that this, despite being a leaner, more exposed wine, is also showing a degree of polish that seems a step above what has come before.

The aroma certainly signals the sort of sappy freshness that speaks of whole bunches and considerable acid. It’s not signalling any dramatic underripeness, but there’s a lean crunchiness to the aroma that banishes any hint of abundance. It’s also emphatically spicy, which I like in the context of these aromas. Fruit isn’t the driving force here, but to the extent that it winds its way around the spice, it’s dark and sinewy in character.

The palate is a replay of the nose. There’s lean, rope-like fruit within an acid-driven structure that is both fresh and tight. If you’re coming off the back of a fuller wine, this might seem quite anaemic, yet I think it finds its own balance, even if rather tilted towards acid. On the negative side, it pulls up a bit short, exposing the finish to oak’s influence, as well as that of its alcohol.

In the context of Stuart Olsen’s oeuvre so far, this is a worthwhile, distinctive addition to his evolving Shiraz Petit Verdot project. I don’t think it’s a complete wine, but it’s one I’m glad to have tasted and which, in its own sprightly way, provides good pleasure.

Update: this certainly rounds out with some air. The winemaker believes it’s suffering from bottle shock, and my own experience with it over several days is that it benefits from considerable time after being opened. Fruit steps forward and the wine gains a distinctly more expressive balance. A very interesting wine.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample